Tag Archives: Administrative Theory and Praxis

Similarities & Differences of Religion & Spirituality in Public Administration Literature: Religion, Spirituality, and Public Administration, Part 3

In the first post of this series, we looked at the introduction and the first two articles from the paper. In the second post of the series, we looked at the three other articles that were examined in the paper. In this last section, we’ll look at the similarities and differences between these articles and wrap up the paper.

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Similarities and Differences

Spirituality and religion. Only Farmer (2005) failed to distinguish between spirituality and religion. In fact, Farmer failed to even mention spirituality. This might be because Farmer was interested in placing public administration theory in conversation with religion, rather than addressing the similarities between spirituality and religion. The other four articles had similar definitions and distinctions of religion and spirituality. It was made clear that these two concepts were very similar, but not the same. Whereas religion had more of a community focus, was more formal, and organized, spirituality was more individualistic, informal, and less systematic.

Religion, spirituality, and public administration theory. The biggest similarity of these five articles is that they are all making the case that religion should be studied in the context of public administration. Farmer (2005) argued that public administration had been studied in the context of postmodernism and critical theory, and so it should also be studied in the context of religion. King (2007), on the other hand, was more interested in how religion was influencing public administration today. Houston and Cartwright (2007) argued that spirituality had received attention in other disciplines like business and social work, so public administration should also study spirituality. Houston, Freeman, and Feldman (2008) echoed Houston and Cartwright’s (2007) argument that other academic disciplines had studied religion and so should public administration. Freeman and Houston (2010) made the best case for studying religion and public administration through five arguments. In particular, the argument that the growing religious heterogeneity of the American population requires a more representative bureaucracy was particularly strong.

Model for religion-spirituality integration. Only King (2007) proposed (or adapted) a model for integrating religion and spirituality. King found many problems with adapting the model, most notably, the language. King felt that when religion is discussed in the context of public administration, people are quick to raise the point about the Constitution and the separation of church and state. On the point about the Constitution: Houston, Freeman, and Feldman (2008) believed that these concerns have played a minor role. They argued that, among other things, secularization had more to do with religion not being discussed in the context of public administration.

1998 GSS. Two articles used data from the 1998 GSS to test hypotheses. Houston and Cartwright (2007) found that public sector workers were more spiritual than private sector workers and Houston, Freeman, and Feldman (2008) found that public sector workers were more religious than private sector workers. Given the overlap in spirituality and religion, these results are unsurprising, but are noteworthy for the sake of consistency.

2004 GSS. Freeman and Houston (2004) used data from the 2004 GSS to test their hypotheses. They also confirmed the findings from the two articles that used the 1998 GSS. The two findings: public servant seem to have more spiritual attitudes than the public (Houston & Cartwright, 2007) and public servants are more religious and less secular than the public (Houston, Freeman, & Feldman, 2008). Their own hypotheses had to do with religious affiliation and the results indicated little difference between public servants and the general public.

Farmer’s 10 suggestions. There are a few of Farmer’s (2005) that are worth reviewing. “3) It is hard to know how to talk about religion objectively across a religious divide.” This suggestion gets to the same point raised in other articles about the Constitution and the ‘separation of church and state.’ Farmer made the argument that when not in the appropriate company, it can be difficult to broach the subject of religion. “5) It is easy to suppose that religion can participate in shaping the moral landscape.” This suggestion is pointing to the fact that maybe there are other (abortion and marriage being two of the main ones) central questions in the moral debate. Farmer suggested that ‘treatment of others’ might be one, but that it is hard to know without studying religion and public administration. “9) It is sensible to be self-revealing when discussing PA in religion, whether or not it is embarrassing.” It is easy to see where some people may whole-heartedly disagree with Farmer in being self-revealing when discussing PA in religion, but Farmer’s point is well taken. The argument parallels that which you would expect from a journalist to disclose their biases or ties to the subject of their article. Just as was gleaned from Freeman and Houston (2010), religion affects one’s attitudes and behaviors, so it seems natural that one would disclose this affiliation in the context of a scholarly discussion that included religion. The problem being that some might argue that it infringes on their right to privacy.

Conclusion

Prior to starting this project, it never occurred to me the various ways that religion could and does affect public administration. Like some of the articles have mentioned, I would have thought the ‘separation of church and state’ axiom would have kept people far away from doing research on religion and public administration. After reading through this small sample of public administration articles relating to religion, there certainly seems to be a strong argument in favor of studying public administration in the context of religion in a number of different ways.

References

Farmer, D. J. (2005). Talking about religion. Administrative Theory & Praxis, 27(1), 182-195.

Freeman, P. K., & Houston, D. J. (2010). Belonging, believing, behaving: The religious character of public servants. Administration & Society, 42(6), 694-719.

Houston, D. J., & Cartwright, K. E. (2007). Spirituality and public service. Public Administration Review, 67(1), 88-102.

Houston, D. J., Freeman, P. K., & Feldman, D. L. (2008). How naked is the public square? Religion, public service, and implications for public administration. Public Administration Review, 68(3), 428-444.

King, S. M. (2007). Religion, spirituality, and the workplace: Challenges for public administration. Public Administration Review, 67(1), 103-114.

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If you liked this paper/series, you might want to check out some of the other papers/series I’ve posted.

Religion and Spirituality in the Workplace: Religion, Spirituality, and Public Administration, Part 1

It’s not secret that one of my interests is spirituality. After having been exposed to a variety of spiritual traditions when I was young, I was naturally curious about some of the other ways that these experiences percolate in the population. This is, in part, the reason that I initially chose to do my PhD in clinical psychology at a school like Sofia University. It allowed for that exploration and more importantly, it teaches its students about the importance of recognizing/allowing this exploration in patients/clients.

During one of my last couple of classes at George Mason University, I had the opportunity to take a class in Administration in Public and Nonprofit Organizations. After having completed all of the business classes for the MBA program, I found it quite interesting to think about these principles in the context of public and nonprofit organizations.

One of the papers I wrote for that class looked at something that piqued my interest during the law/ethics requirement for the MBA — spirituality and religion in public administration. I remember considering the difficulties that managers might face depending on their level of cultural intelligence in a given situation. So, today, I thought I’d start another series where I share the pieces of that paper. Let’s look at the introduction and a couple of the first sections.

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The central theme of the five articles summarized is that there is an undeniable hole in the literature of religion and public administration. Most of the articles make it clear that there is a difference between religion and spirituality, but maintain that these two concepts are very closely related. Only in Farmer (2005) was the issue of spirituality not discussed, but there were 10 suggestions for thinking about public administration in the context of religion. King (2007) attempted to adapt a model of religion-spirituality integration from the business world to public administration and offered four caveats. Houston and Cartwright (2007) found evidence in the 1998 General Social Survey (GSS) that public administrators were more spiritual than their private sector counterparts. Houston, Freeman, and Feldman (2008) also used data from the 1998 GSS and found that public servants tended to be more religious than their private sector counterparts. They also found that public servants tended to have less secular attitudes than did private sector employees. Freeman and Houston (2010) made the strongest case for studying religion and public administration through five arguments. They also used data from the 2004 GSS and found that public servants were more active in and committed to their religious communities than the general public. The results from Freeman and Houston (2010) are consistent with Houston and Cartwright (2007) in that public servants seem to have more spiritual attitudes. In addition, Freeman and Houston (2010) are also consistent with Houston, Freeman, and Feldman (2008) in that public servants are more religious and less secular. In this paper, the articles are summarized in chronological order and contrasted with each other throughout. Following the summaries is a brief discussion of some of the similarities and differences.

Farmer – Talking About Religion (2005)

The central idea from Farmer (2005) was that the literature in public administration theory has failed to adequately address religion. Farmer argued that public administration has been studied in the context of critical theory and postmodernism, but not within the context of religion. He believes that religion is part of the context of public administration and as a result, should be studied.

He submitted that talking about religion in the context of public administration is difficult and offered 10 suggestions for thinking about public administration in the context of religion: “1) It is hard to know what religion is; 2) It is hard to know whether the separation of church and state is a done deal; 3) It is hard to know how to talk about religion objectively across a religious divide; 4) It is easy to suppose that religion is implicated in the constitutive magma of our society, and also a window toward understanding the constitutive framework; 5) It is easy to suppose that religion can participate in shaping the moral landscape; 6) It is easy to suppose that religion has both an up side and a down side, and that this down side is also part of our societal dynamic; 7) It is sensible to think that PA [public administration] should emulate religious ‘best business practice’ to the extent, at least, that religion is in competition with government; 8) It is sensible to think that PA should not be indifferent to the kinds of religious activities which exist in society; 9) It is sensible to be self-revealing when discussing PA in religion, whether or not it is embarrassing; [and] 10) It is lunatic to think in rigid boxes (boxism) [sic] about PA in its religious context,” (p. 182-3).

King – Religion, Spirituality, and the Workplace (2007)

Like Farmer (2005), King (2007) emphasized the lack of study of religion and public administration. Specifically, King was interested in the influence that religion had on public administration. King began with a brief literature review showcasing the differences between religion and spirituality in the context of the workplace. The key difference being that, “spirituality is distinct from but related to religion,” (p. 104). This led into the section where King discussed various court cases in which religious and/or spiritual expression was/were implicated: workplace cases, employers’ rights, employees’ rights, and political measures. King concludes this section by stating that one of today’s challenges for public administration is determining how these two concepts (religious and spiritual expression) fit together.

This led into a discussion of a model of religion-spirituality integration that came from the business world. King attempted to reconcile the differences with public administration and raised four problems: 1) public administrators are stereotyped by the values they seek; 2) how to account for the different aspects of a public administrator’s life (e.g. family, outside world, global context, etc.); 3) professional turf wars; and 4) language. The last problem is what King saw as the most important to public administration because whenever religion/spirituality are raised, people are quick to point to the Constitution and ‘the separation of church and state.’ King argued that this happens in discussions of administrative ethics, which usually pit utilitarianism (greatest good for greatest number of people) against deontology (universal principles of right and wrong). King’s main point here was that the language used in the debate of administrative ethics has a basis in sacred religious texts.

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Note: Check back tomorrow for the next section of the paper. I’ll include the list of references in the last post in the series.